“We were leaders”

Kunov, Hans

Hans Kunov, Professor Emeritus & Director (1989-1999)

September 23, 2012

Hans Kunov came to the University of Toronto’s Institute of Biomedical Electronics from Denmark in 1967. “As a young engineer in Denmark, you would spend some time abroad simply a way of enhancing your career. I never went back,” remarks Kunov. Research at the Institute during those pioneering years was conducted with a high degree of ingenuity–where patches from ladies’ nylon pantyhose served to test a heart pump, for instance. To that point, Kunov’s research had focused on nerve endings, but when he arrived at the Institute his research fields blossomed. With Norman Moody he began work on an ultrasound project, and with students he studied everything from lasers to medical information systems before he returned to his master’s project research on hearing and acoustics.

In late 1985, Kunov headed a new Biomedical Acoustics Laboratory with links to hospital and industry partners. “We did some work on cochlear implants, acoustic emissions, and developed some instrumentation for those things that led to a couple of start-up companies,” says Kunov.

One project was the development of an accurate acousto-mechanical model of the human head, for instance, and much of the research revolved around creating signal processors (such as that induced by cochlear impants) to treat hearing disorders, technology that one of the still-remaining start-ups, Vivosonic, focuses on.

Kunov agreed to become Director for the Institute in 1989, a role he took on for a decade. It was during this time that he was presented with a demand from the student population. “Students had written me a petition,” he says, “and when the customer demands something, you give it to them.”

That “something” was the Biomedical Engineering Option offered through the Division of Engineering Science, the first program of its kind in Canada.

But Kunov remained skeptical at first that this type of program was even possible. “There are examples of school, mostly U.S. schools, that enthusiastically start out with Biomedical Engineering as a background, but where students come experts in nothing. That was what we wanted to avoid.”

If the UofT program were to succeed, Kunov insisted, undergraduates needed a rigorous platform from which to launch into the world of Biomedical Engineering.

“We tried to make sure students that go through the program are solid in Electrical and Computer Engineer, and Mechanical, and so forth, that they have this life science Biomedical Engineering background in additional to fundamental engineering.”

Kunov’s move towards an undergraduate program is coming full circle during the Institute’s Golden Anniversary: IBBME hopes to launch its own core Biomedical Engineering undergraduate degree within the next calendar year.

But even before he became Director, Kunov had already left his indelible fingerprints on the future of the Institute. Kunov, in collaboration with Rick Frecker, another of IBBME’s Emeritus, was responsible for the writing of a detailed report in 1972 —a blueprint for a Clinical Engineering graduate program for the Institute. The program plan was shelved for eight years as the Institute worked to establish itself and its financial foundations, when it finally came to life in 1984 under the Directorship of Walter Zingg, and implemented almost word for word by Alf Dolen, the program’s first Coordinator.

When asked, Hans Kunov will tell you this is the legacy he’s most proud of. “We were and probably still are the leading Institute of Clinical Engineering. Our graduates have been very attractive to hospitals throughout North America, and our program is still one of the best–if not the best–of its kind,” he says with pride.

“We were leaders.”